May 20, 2019
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Maine House votes to end ban on use of state money for abortion services

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
On Tuesday, the House voted 79-63 in favor of the bill from Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, that would counteract a federal ban on abortion funding by mandating that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services cover the cost of abortion care under MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill supported by Gov. Janet Mills’ administration that would end a decadeslong prohibition on the use of state money for abortion services won a key vote of support in the Maine House on Tuesday.

After more than two hours of debate, members of the House voted 79-63 in favor of the bill from Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, that would counteract a federal ban on abortion funding by mandating that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services cover the cost of abortion care under MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program. If passed into law, it would apply to eligible MaineCare recipients and require private insurance carriers to include abortion services in their prenatal coverage plans.

Most Democrats supported the bill, although eight members of that party joined Republicans in opposing it. They were Reps. Robert Alley of Beals, John Martin of Eagle Lake, Danny Martin of Sinclair, Catherine Nadeau of Winslow, Joe Perry of Bangor, Steve Stanley of Medway, Archie Verow of Brewer and Bruce White of Waterville.

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The proposal still leaves room for religious employers to claim exemptions, but wouldn’t allow nonreligious employers to claim religious or philosophical exemptions.

McCreight said last month that current policies “mean we are restricting those with lower incomes from accessing the care that is available to those with higher incomes,” which she called in the House on Tuesday, “thinly veiled discrimination.”

But Rep. Josh Morris, R-Turner, said by forcing “morally opposed” taxpayers to “pick up the tab,” the bill “crosses the line from being pro-choice to being pro-abortion.”

McCreight’s bill won support from a legislative committee last month after it drew heated testimony from dozens of opponents, including Republican lawmakers. It’s one of several proposals before the Democratic-controlled Legislature this session that aims to equalize women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care. Another bill from Mills to expand state parameters on who can perform abortions in Maine will be vetted by a legislative committee Tuesday afternoon.

For more than 40 years, Maine has adhered to the federal standard on funding abortion care, known as the Hyde Amendment. It ensures women have access to abortion but bars federal dollars from being used for those services, except in cases of rape or incest, or if a woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy.

The federal standard does not exclude states from using Medicaid funds to cover the cost of that care — an option that 15 states are utilizing, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and one that the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the state’s abortion providers are currently challenging before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The bill now moves to the Senate. Further votes in each chamber will be required.

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